One warm summer morning lots of years ago, I was going through the motions of monthly communion with about a dozen very old folks in a nursing home in Louisville. The local facilities and churches coordinated a regular calendar in service to the other. Our busy congregational staff also rotated the responsibilities, but someone had forgotten and I was expected to drop everything and rushed over there.
Everybody had already been wheeled into a circle in the sunroom. Some people dozed, some held onto their closed prayer books, and a few stared off into space. The sunroom had large wire cages with yellow canaries and little tiny blue or pink birds who took quick flights inside their cages. They chirped sometimes in unison, though they settled down to silence once we got going.
My mind was still partly on the youth program I’d left in the hands of a colleague, and I found myself using the words of the service but struggling to take them to heart. When we got to the Lord’s Prayer, almost everybody chimed in, as usual, because the familiar words caught hold somewhere. And as usual, I thought, that’s nice.
Then came the sharing of the bread and grape juice. I moved around the circle with the bread and some folks took the bread in their hands, and others opened their mouths like little birds. Sometimes they forgot to chew until one of the attendants reminded them, Honey, want to chew that there up?
Then I got to a woman who had seemed totally absent from us. She was staring beyond us all, burning a hole in the wall with her pale blue eyes. I moved in front of her, and as my hand with the bread moved toward her face, she turned her eyes up to mine, reached out, took my hand in her hand, and guided my hand to her mouth. Our eyes were locked, and I believed she was going to kiss my hand.
She bit me. Hard. I squealed in shock, and looked at my hand with the little tooth-shaped indentions already beginning to turn pink. I was amazed.
I didn’t know she was there, if you know what I mean. I still don’t know from whence came the bite. Was she angry about breakfast? Was it a political statement, since she’d never bitten my male colleagues? Was she depressed about the aging and caging of her ancient body as the clock ran down? Who knows?
Or maybe by the grace of God, she just decided to remind me, for God’s sake, Pay Attention. You’re in a holy moment here. The Word is still becoming flesh all around you, still full of grace and truth. Pay Attention, for God’s sake and for your own.
In this Lenten season of reflection, sorrow, renewal and grace, may God’s own grit challenge you to pay attention. Pay attention to the often ridiculous and sometimes tragic predicaments of biblical proportions that we find ourselves in, knowing that God is also there in the mess. Pay attention to the truth and beauty of other people who are so often prophets and angels in disguise. And pay attention to the nips and taps and caresses of the Spirit which over and round us lies.
I thank God for those who are our teachers of the Word becoming Flesh. Maybe you haven’t been bitten by grace lately, but most days keeping our eyes open for the possibilities, a blessing waits for our notice and thanks.
Have a blessed Season. I look forward to seeing you Holy Week!